A spectacular meteor shower is about to arrive. The Perseids will peak the night of August 12, though you should be able to catch the show any night over the weekend. At its peak, it'll fire off around a meteor per minute overhead. With a new moon arriving on August 11, and the potential for gorgeous summer weather, it should be a perfect night for stargazing.
While you sit under the Perseids' bright fireballs, you may be tempted to snap a picture of a shooting star. It can be tricky. So, here are some tips from NASA about how you can grab that perfect shot on a DSLR or mirrorless camera that will be the envy of all your Instagram followers (though, a NASA post on Tumblr also notes that these are useful tips for some point and shoot cameras as well).
Get away from city lights. Having a dark sky will not only improve your viewing experience but will vastly improve your photos. They also recommend turning down the light on your LCD screen to help keep your eyes adjusted to the dark. Any light from a phone or other device can make it difficult to see some of the fainter meteors.
Long exposures are the best way to capture a meteor. You won't be able to hold your hands still long enough to make the photo work, so use a tripod. In the absence of a tripod, try putting your camera on something and securing it.
A wide-angle lens can make a big difference. It's the same reason it's best to lean back and take in as much of the sky as possible when you're stargazing with the naked eye. The larger your field of vision, the better your chances of seeing a streaking meteor.
Other tips include using your camera's timer so you don't shake it when you press the shutter button, manually focus your camera since autofocus can struggle to find what it's aiming at, point your camera at the radiant (the constellation Perseus in this instance), and calculate your exposure time.
This last one is a great tip. As the Earth spins, the stars will appear to move in your picture if the exposure is too long. To avoid star trails in your image, NASA recommends you "follow the 500 Rule." Here it is: "Take 500 and divide it by the length in millimeters of your lens. The resulting number is the length of time in seconds that you can keep your shutter open before seeing star trails. For example, if you’re using a 20mm lens, 25 seconds (500 divided by 20) is the longest you can set your exposure time before star trails start to show up in your images."
Moreover, like NASA photographer Bill Ingalls advised when photographing a lunar eclipse, it can be helpful to get something in the foreground. It's not necessary, but even getting a dark silhouette can give your picture that something extra.
Also helpful: coffee and a snack. You want to be out after midnight and the best time is going to be around 2am local time. So, coffee and a snack.